New direction for £13bn NHS IT programme

The government has set a “new direction” for the ailing £12.7 billion NHS National Programme for IT.

It suggested it will give hospitals more influence on the programme, which is aimed at delivering digital patient records and administrative systems. Local health authorities could contribute more to decisions on the programme’s scope and the timing of patient system implementations.

Changes follow extensive high-level meetings between health officials. During additional meetings in the last three weeks, key suppliers BT and CSC are understood to have been under intense pressure to prove they are delivering workable and well-used systems.

The Department of Health said in a new public document that the future strategy had been “agreed”. BT did not comment. CSC said it was in negotiations with the NHS to "reshape" its contract.

Health sources said details would be officially announced in the coming weeks. Buried on page 43 of a Department of Health document, which outlined the “operating framework” for the NHS for the next financial year, some information was disclosed.

The government said in the document that it wanted to help “local health economies”, meaning hospital trusts or strategic health authorities, to develop their “local ambitions for digital technology advances”. In partnership with local health authorities, the controversial rollout of summary care records for patients will be “accelerated”, it said. Nearly a million such records now exist.

But while the government claimed it was giving more influence to local NHS organisations, the document also appeared to suggest they will come under increased pressure to make use of the technology.

“The NHS needs to identify, adapt and adopt technical innovation, including maximising the leverage of investments already made to positively impact on transaction costs,” it said, in what appeared to be an admission that there were some issues with usage.

Local trusts “are expected to take up” the new NHS email service, use Choose and Book online booking for all hospital appointment referrals, and use digital X-rays. They are also to make more use of ‘enterprise-wide’ technology agreements with suppliers Microsoft, Cisco, EMC, HDS, HP, McAfee, Novell, Sun, Oracle and SAP.

Analysts said the document appeared to indicate a continuation of the move towards more programme influence for local health bodies.

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